James Connelly was faced with a challenge: He had five weeks to build a barn. Not for animals or grain — but for hardcore crafters. And A-list celebrities. And a Hollywood studio's worth of production equipment.
Oh, and it'd have to be entirely dismantled, flat-packed and put into storage — as if it were never there — weeks later. But he'd be the first to admit he brought this on himself, and he was more than up for the challenge.
James's the set designer behind Making It, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman's craft competition series, where eight people (now seven) vie for $100,000 ... and serious bragging rights. In the exclusive video clip above, James gives us a tour of what went into bringing that craft barn to life — and making sure it worked for TV. He also filled us in on some surprising Easter eggs even the most eagle-eyed fans may not notice about the space. Here's what you'll have to look out for before catching the next episode (which airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on NBC, BTW).
Amy Picked His Brain About The Show Before He Was Hired.
Sure, James and his team have racked up all kinds of Emmy award nominations for their work on The Voice and the MTV Video Music Awards (including a win), but he still found himself nervous around Christmas 2016, when Amy approached him to discuss this new show she was working on. She quickly put him at ease.
"Amy's the best — she's the same person off-camera as she is on, and we just clicked over a few shared experiences," he said. "I told her my ideas for what the barn could be, and she trusted me."
The Hardest Part To Design Around Is Something You'd Never Notice.
Amy and Nick really wanted to connect people to the outside world, so the set needed to reflect that. "We wanted it to feel relatable to the rest of the country. Not every place has palm trees, you know?" James said. "With all of the beautiful oaks and lush grass, it felt like we were in Ohio, even though it was California."
The challenge, though, was that the ground at their perfect location had a 30-degree slope. It was tricky to build around, but James's team made it work. Then they had to figure out how to create a massive, 85-foot by 50-foot barn that could hold full studio lighting — without any bulky center support beams that'd block the cameras' shots.
"We wound up creating what's like a deck patio, building it from the ground up," James said, adding that he spent 6-7 months before that 5-week build-a-thon planning out the set with his team. "If you watch while the crafters work, you'll see some beams running up the walls. Those are hollow, and we fed the light cables through the floor and up the walls, so you wouldn't notice them in the shot."
The Show's Time Slot Affected The Barn's Color Palette.
When James learned the show would air during primetime, he decided to treat the set like you would a charcoal painting, starting with black and adding highlights and medium tones to it. "This is just my belief, but when you watch TV after 8 p.m., it's dark outside, so your eyes are more comfortable with a darker palette," he explained. "If you squint your eyes and flipped channels, you'd see darker sets at night than you do during daytime TV."
With that in mind, he didn't stray from using shiny black and charcoal details, working in sky blue, Benjamin Moore's Hale Navy (one of his favorite shades), and plenty of plywood to give the set its earthy, rustic-meets-modern feel.
There Are Parks And Rec Easter Eggs Hidden Everywhere On Set.
"There's an animator in my office, David, who's a huge fan of Parks And Recreation. In our initial designs for the set, we put little Parks And Rec items throughout, and everyone loved it so much that we decided to go with it," James said.
Amy even reached out to her old show's team to help secure items for the set. If you look closely, you'll see the occasional mug, mustache motif and Ron Swanson's actual canoe on display at the barn.
"It was one of my favorite features," James said. "It was so cool being able to motivate that connection to the old show."
Everything On The Walls Has A Story — And A Purpose.James tapped local Los Angeles crafters and artisans, borrowing everything from their actual art to their tools to decorate the set. "I went to one woman's shop and saw these enormous wooden looms," he explained. "I said, 'I love your work and I love that stuff — can I use those too?' And I layered her art and the looms on the walls."
After filming wrapped, he shipped the tools and crafts back to their original owners, dodging the temptation to keep a memento for himself.
"We never take anything home from my shows — things always go back to the network, or we'll repurpose it for another shoot," he said. "But I do have the best photos on the planet." You can see those souvenirs firsthand on his Instagram, in case you're curious.
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